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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 6

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-9


“Now it came to pass when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah, and to Geshem the Arabian, and unto the rest of our enemies, that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein (Though even unto that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), that Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief. And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease whilst I leave it, and come down to you? And they sent unto me four times after this sort, and; I answered them after the same manner. Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand, wherein was written, It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel; for which cause thou art building the wall: and thou wouldest be their king according to these words. And thou hast appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, there is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported unto the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together. Then I sent unto him saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart. For they all would make us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. But thou, O God, strengthen thou my hands.”

“The narrative which was broken by the parenthetical Nehemiah 5 is here taken up again.”(F1) “The enemies of Judah had found ridicule (Nehemiah 4:1-6) ineffective, and their threatened military attack had not taken place (Nehemiah 4:7-23); and their plan here was to kill Nehemiah, or at least kidnap him.”(F2) The spiritual significance of Sanballat’s proposal is that Satan is always attempting to induce God’s servants to come down unto the plains of Ono, and to take counsel with evil men. Satan’s purposes are never otherwise than totally evil. “The plain of Ono was near Lydda, twelve miles north of Jerusalem.”(F3) Cundall located it 19 miles north of Jerusalem.(F4)

“With an open letter in his hand” This open letter was not sealed, in order that the escort who carried it might read it and scatter the evil report as widely as possible. The very fact of sending such an open letter to the head of a government was an insult.

“Gashmu” This is the name as it appears in the Masoretic text; but it is believed to be the same as Geshem, as the word is translated in the RSV. He was an important official whose word might carry weight in Persia; and there was also the element of plausibility that such a report might carry with it in Persia.”(F5) The whole report, however, was totally false.

“Thou hast appointed prophets to preach of thee” Sanballat here exhibits some knowledge of Hebrew history in which prophets did play a large part in the anointing of Israel’s kings, as in the cases of Saul and David. This supports an earlier comment that Sanballat might have been an Ephraimite. However, Sanballat’s omission of any reference to Nehemiah as being a descendant of the royal family of David, supports Williamson’s argument that, “Nehemiah was not of Davidic descent.”(F6)

“Thou feignest them out of thine own heart” Nehemiah’s response to this well-planned scheme to allure him into a meeting with Sanballat was merely to send him word that all of his charges were merely a pack of lies which he himself had invented.

“But now, O God, strengthen thou my hands” Here is another of Nehemiah’s impromptu prayers, indicating his complete reliance upon the blessing of God in order to accomplish his objectives.

Sanballat and Tobiah had corrupted a priest named Shemaiah, who attempted to get Nehemiah killed, having been hired by Tobiah. That is our next episode.

Verses 10-14


“And I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabel, who was shut up, and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the door of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee. And I said, should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being such as I, would go into the temple to save his life? And I discerned, and, lo, God had not sent him; but he announced this prophecy against me: and Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this cause was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me. Remember, O My God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and also the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets who would have put me to fear.”

There are many details of this plot which are not fully explained in the Bible, but enough is revealed to expose the traitors among the priests and prophets of Jerusalem. “Shemaiah, a hired traitor, pretended to be Nehemiah’s friend, invited him into his home, told him of a plot to kill him that very night (a lie), and suggested that he hide within the temple. That suggestion about entering the temple exposed Shemaiah to Nehemiah, revealing that Shemaiah was a liar, for Nehemiah knew that God would not have led him to break the Mosaic injunction against entering the temple (Numbers 1:51).”(F7)

The text does not say so; but given the treachery of Shemaiah and the hatred of the priesthood against Nehemiah, they would in all probability have murdered him for such a violation if they could have induced him to fall for their strategy. We do not know what part Noadiah and others of the prophets (and priests) had in this conspiracy; but evidently, the whole temple enclave were enemies of Nehemiah. That development, and the motivation for it, are revealed in the next paragraph.

Verses 15-19


“So the wall was finished in the twentieth and fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. And it came to pass, when all our enemies heard thereof, that all the nations that were about us feared, and were much cast down in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God. Moreover in the days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them. For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullum the son of Berechiah to wife. Also, they spake of his good deeds before me, and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.”

Here we have the explanation of the priesthood’s hatred of Nehemiah. Tobiah had married one of their daughters and was the son-in-law of Shechaniah. Many of them were sworn allies of Tobiah and cooperated with Israel’s enemies throughout the period of rebuilding the wall. Indeed, its completion was certainly wrought of God (Nehemiah 6:16).

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 6". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/nehemiah-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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